As the reigning national champion, Stevenson is doing what it can to ensure that no one can accuse the program of trying to get back to the postseason with an easy path. Next year’s schedule will be arguably one of the most arduous in Division III.
After opening the 2014 campaign with a home game against York, the Mustangs will tangle with Rochester Institute of Technology – which lost, 16-14, to Stevenson in the NCAA tournament final on May 26. The Mustangs will also meet semifinalists Salisbury and SUNY Cortland, quarterfinalists Lynchburg, Tufts and Western New England, and second-round participant Nazareth.
The program’s toughest stretch will revolve around a two-week stretch in March. Stevenson (22-2 this past spring) will play Roanoke (16-4) on Saturday, March 15 and Tufts (16-5) on Tuesday, March 18.
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The Mustangs will then play host to a four-team showcase at Mustang Stadium in Owings Mills that includes Cortland, Lynchburg and Nazareth. Stevenson will meet Nazareth (15-5) on Friday, March 21 and then Cortland (19-1) the next day.
The team will then compete against Salisbury (17-6) on Wednesday, March 26 and Lynchburg (14-6) on Saturday, March 29.
“It is a brutal schedule,” Mustangs coach Paul Cantabene acknowledged. “We’ve got a lot of great games scheduled. … It’s kind of a murderers' row right there, but we wanted to play all these games. We wanted to keep all these games and those were the openings. Sometimes you’ve just got to slide those games into where the openings are.”
In addition to a tough slate, every opponent that has Stevenson on its schedule with circle that date with a red marker as a potential statement game against the reigning NCAA titlist. Moving from hunter to hunted will be somewhat of a shift for the program, but Cantabene said it is a mode of thinking that the players and coaches will have to prepare for.
“We have to understand that just because we won it last year doesn’t mean that we’re going to win it next year,” he said. “We’ve got to be good again, and we’ve got to play better. Every game is going to be tougher, everybody is going to try to give us their best go even more than they did a year ago, and I think these guys have to understand that. Once these guys come back, we’re not going to talk about the national championship. It’s all over. We’re moving on and that’s over. We’ve got to get better and get ready for the next season, but I think we have the right type of kids. This year, the kids really impressed with the right focus all the time. Even after the game was over, they were already talking about next year a little bit and what they needed to do. I think a lot of the guys that didn’t play in that game are already working out. I see a lot of guys around school doing some things. So I think they’re going to be a very motivated group to get back to what they’re doing. They understand the legacy they left and they want to maintain that legacy.”